Golf Magazine Interview: Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus

Nicklaus: No, which ones?

Palmer: Well, Aronimink for one. He won the PGA there [in 1962] by hitting 3- and 4-woods all week — and he wasn't even a long hitter. But he knew how to manage a golf course and play shots. Still does. Having said that, I do agree that the ball needs some throttling back. Jack says it should be 5 percent; I'd advocate at least 15 percent.

GOLF Magazine: Speaking of major championships why do you think that today's players don't do as you guys once — show up a week early and take the time to learn about the site of the Open or PGA Championship? This year's Open site, Oakmont, is a good example — those super-fast greens require some studying.

Nicklaus: No they don't-not as much as they used to. Today the USGA sets up every Open course the same way-you know what the fairways are gonna be, you know what the rough is gonna be, you know the speed of the greens. If Oakmont's greens are faster than USGA specs, they slow them down. It used to be that each site presented a different set of conditions that needed some study. Not anymore.

Palmer: That's true. In fact the whole Tour has become a series of very similar conditions. Heck, back in the early days, the condition of the Tour courses was very inconsistent, particularly in the winter months. One of the reasons I looked forward to Augusta each spring was that I felt it was the first event of the year where I'd be truly rewarded for playing a good shot.

Nicklaus: Yeah, the winter Tour was really a winter Tour. Nowadays, with overseeing and so forth those courses are in great shape, probably better than the ones in the summer.

Palmer: But getting back to your question about the Open, I think there's another reason that guys don't show up early and practice. Winning the Open doesn't mean as much today as it did when Jack and I were in our primes. I can recall talking to Hogan and Nelson and guys like Ed Furgol about their victories. Winning the Open back then was almost like an insurance policy. Today, with all of the money in professional golf, it's comparatively less important.

GOLF Magazine: That brings up a questions I've always meant to ask you, Jack, about an old story. Back in 1960 at Cherry Hills, when you were an amateur and couldn't accept prize money, the story goes that you placed a bet on yourself to win the U.S. Open and had you won you would have cashed in for several hundred dollars. True or False? Nicklaus: True. The week of the tournament, my Dad came up and said "Jack, as national amateur champion they have you at 35-1 odds to win the Open. Would you like to make a bet on that?" And I said, "You're damn right I would — I'll have 20 bucks on that." And he said "Do you want place or show?" and I said, "Hell, no, I wanna win." Coming down the stretch, that bet was pretty important to me. I was about to get married, and I needed the money. Arnie, you were the only one who kept me from winning that $700.

Palmer: You have my apologies.

GOLF Magazine: At this point in your lives, if you were forced to choose between playing golf for the rest of your days or pursuing your business careers and playing no golf, which would it be?

Palmer: Golf, of course. But you knew I'd say that.

GOLF Magazine: Yes, but I wasn't too sure what Jack would say....

Nicklaus: C'mon...I'd choose golf, too. The only reason to choose otherwise would be if my body wouldn't let me play without pain, or if I were so hampered that I couldn't enjoy it any more.

Palmer: Yeah, I guess I agree. So far, I've been pretty fortunate. At age 64, I can still stand on the tee and hit it pretty good. When that's no longer the case, I suspect my attitude will change.

GOLF Magazine: You guys are probably two of the 100 most recognizable names and faces in the world. Do you ever sit back and consider the mind-boggling magnitude of that celebrity?

Palmer: No, I don't think about it, and when others begin to talk to me in that way, I quickly pass it off.

Nicklaus: I've sat back and thought that the things that have happened to me because of an ability to hit a little white ball a little better than somebody else have been pretty special. And to have been awarded some of the status and gone to some of the places I have is pretty unusual and pretty nice. But it drives me crazy when I go home and a good friend, say a tennis partner, starts in with that "Who you are, what you are" stuff. My response is usually something like, "Serve the ball, will you?"

GOLF Magazine: Last question, admittedly, a very premature one: Where do you want your ashes spread?

Palmer: That's easy. Latrobe Country Club. It's already in my will.

Nicklaus: I'm not sure. I've never been asked that and I've never asked myself. I don't even know what I'm gonna do, whether I'm gonna be buried or cremated or what...

Palmer: Well, you'd better start thinking about it, Jack-you're not getting any younger.

Nicklaus: Yeah, well I guess...I suppose it would have to be Muirfield Village.

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